Soltek PT880PRO-FGR - Page 5

..:: Layout: Southbridge & Memory Area ::..

When it comes to the Southbridge portion of the motherboard, we typically begin to see things become far more cramped in boards that house several features, such as those that are offered by the PT880PRO-FGR. As usual, the PT880PRO-FGR follows the typical pattern, but how well are the various components laid out? Well, to start things off, we find both of the USB 2.0 headers located along the bottom edge of the PCB, excellent positioning. The first complaint we have about the PT880PRO-FGR deals with the terrible positioning for the floppy connector, running lengthwise along the very bottom of the board. Now, granted, space conservation issues come into play, as well as those that deal with implementing all of the features in, but this is a far cry from what I would deem as an acceptable fix. If you’re still one using a floppy drive, and have a larger case, good luck with this one. The Clear CMOS jumper and the System BIOS chip are both placed just above the floppy connector, and allows for easy access when needed.

As we progress westward, we’ll next come across the ITE IT8705F chip which holds the responsibility of providing the motherboard with legacy connection support, such as the Serial, Parallel, and PS/2 ports, along with handling the temperature, and other system health related readings. In the bottom right corner of the motherboard, we find another three-pin power connection, this time for a front case fan, and once again an excellent implementation. Just above this fan header is the large header block for connection of the power and reset switches, along with the various LED’s for the casing.

Now, the main portion of the PT880PRO-FGR that is in a bit of disarray deals with the Promise PDC20378 chip. This chip provides support for both SATA RAID and IDE RAID setups, and Soltek has chosen to implement this solution into the PT880PRO-FGR. Now, if we take a look to the left of the chip, we find both SATA connections that are natively controlled by the Southbridge, and below it, a single SATA connector. This single connector is controlled by the Promise chip, but what of the other SATA connector? The other connector is placed on the other side of the chip, along the front edge of the PCB. I would’ve preferred to see both of these SATA connections placed next to each other in order to avoid confusion that may happen by a first time builder, or someone who didn’t bother reading the manual. You’ll also notice a black jumper below the three SATA connections. This header allows for disabling of the Promise hardware if the user decides that it is not needed.

In typical Soltek fashion, they have chosen to orient all three of the IDE connections (one controlled by the Promise chip) in a horizontal fashion. I haven’t liked implementations like this before, guess what, I still don’t. Luckily unlike some problems we have seen in the past, these connectors are far enough away from the AGP slot that they should pose no problem with mounting longer graphics adapters. I would still prefer to see vertically oriented IDE connectors as it makes cable routing easier, and can allow for better airflow depending on how the user orients their cables. This might seem like something petty, but when if you’ve got a hot processor, every bit of air counts. As with the IDE connectors, the DIMM’s are located high enough on the board that they won’t interfere with the graphics adapter. It comes close, very close actually, but you’ll still be able to add or remove RAM within the system if ever needed without having to remove the graphics adapter. Otherwise, the DIMM portion of the board is clean, with only a few OST capacitors placed throughout.

..:: Layout: Comments ::..

Well, for the amount of features that Soltek has managed to squeeze onto the PT880PRO-FGR’s PCB, I’d say they’ve done a pretty nice job. The location of the main ATX power connector is a far cry from where I believe it would be ideally placed. Routing a thick cable around, or perhaps even over the processor portion of the board could have seriously negative impacts upon airflow. This is a fact that will become readily apparent if you’re running a “Prescott” core processor. We’ve seen temperature sizeable temperature variations from board to board based on airflow factors alone in our time with “Prescott” and needless to say, what were once acceptable airflow disruptions are no longer acceptable. This follows in line with the IDE connectors. The Southbridge portion of the board is a bit cluttered, and could possibly be a little cleaner in design, but when you’re shooting for certain impedance levels, etc. that sometimes isn’t possible. Overall, decent PCB design, but we’ve seen better.